Cleaning up a Low-Cost Buck-Boost Supply

Cheap DC-DC converters have been a boon on the hobbyist bench for a while now, but they can wreak havoc with sensitive circuits if you’re not careful. The problem: noise generated by the switch-mode supply buried within them. Is there anything you can do about the noise?

As it turns out, yes there is, and [Shahriar] at The Signal Path walks us through a basic circuit to reduce noise from DC-DC converters. The module under the knife is a popular buck-boost converter with a wide input range, 0-32 VDC output at up to 5 amps, and a fancy controller with an LCD display. But putting the stock $32 supply on a scope reveals tons of harmonics across a 1 MHz band and overall ripple of about 66 mV. But a simple voltage follower built from a power op-amp and a Zener diode does a great job of reducing the spikes and halving the ripple. The circuit is just a prototype and is meant more as a proof of principle and launching point for further development, and as such it’s far from perfect. The main downside is the four-volt offset from the input voltage; there’s also a broad smear of noise at the high end of the spectrum that persists even with the circuit in place. Centered around 900 MHz as it is, we suspect a cell signal of some sort is getting in. 900 kHz.

If you haven’t checked out the videos at The Signal Path, you really should. [Shahriar] really has a knack for explaining advanced topics in RF engineering, and has a bench to die for. We’ve covered quite a few of his projects before, from salvaging a $2700 spectrum analyzer to multiplexing fiber optic transmissions.

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Lock In Amplifiers

If you have about an hour to kill, you might want to check out [Shahriar’s] video about the Stanford Research SR530 lock in amplifier (see below). If you know what a lock in amplifier is, it is still a pretty interesting video and if you don’t know, then it really is a must see.

Most of the time, you think of an amplifier as just a circuit that makes a small signal bigger in some way — that is, increase the voltage or increase the current. But there are whole classes of amplifiers designed to reject noise and the lock in amplifier is one of them. [Shahriar’s] video discusses the math theory behind the amplifier, shows the guts, and demonstrates a few experiments (including measuring the speed of sound), as well.

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Shoot the Eclipse with a Phone and Do Not Go Blind

So you want to photograph Eclipse 2017 but you don’t want to rush out and buy an expensive DSLR just for the event? Not a problem, if you build this simple smartphone filter and occluder.

It all started innocently enough for [Paul Bryson] with his iPhone and a lens from those cheap cardboard eclipse glasses we’re starting to see everywhere. Thinking that just taping the filter over the stock lens would do, [Paul] got a painful faceful of sunshine when he tried framing a shot. Turns out the phone body was not big enough to blot out the sun, and besides, the stock lens doesn’t exactly make for a great shot. So with an iPhone telephoto lens affixed to a scrap of wood and a properly positioned filter, [Paul] has a simple rig that’ll let him get some great pre-totality shots of the eclipse, and it’ll be easy to bust out the phone for two minutes of totality selfies. Looks like this setup would be easy to adapt to other phones, too.

We’re all over Eclipse 2017, from Hackaday Eclipse Meetups in at least four different points along the path of totality to experiments on relativity to citizen science efforts so you can get in on the action too. Mark your calendars – August 21 will be here before you know it.

Cascade LNAs and Filters for Radioastronomy with an SDR

It may not be the radio station with all the hits and the best afternoon drive show, but 1420.4058 MHz is the most popular frequency in the universe. That’s the electromagnetic spectral line of hydrogen, and it’s the always on the air. But studying the H-line is a non-trivial task unless you know how to cascade low-noise amplifiers and filters to use an SDR for radio astronomy.

Because the universe is mostly made of hydrogen, H-line emissions are abundant, and their distribution can tell us a lot about the structure of galaxies. The 21-cm emission line is so characteristic and so prevalent that we used it as a unit of measurement on the plaques aboard the Pioneer probes as well as in the instructions for playing back the Voyager recordings. But listening in on 21-cm here on Earth requires a special setup, which [Adam (9A4QV)] describes in a detailed paper on the subject (PDF). [Adam] analyzes multiple configurations of LNAs and filters, both of which he sells, to determine the optimum front-end for 21-cm work. His analysis is a good primer on LNAs and explains why the front-end gear needs to be as close to the antenna as possible. Using his LNAs and filters and an SDR dongle, a reasonable 21-cm rig can be had for about $200 or so, less the antenna. He promises a follow-up paper on homebrew 21-cm antennas; we’ll be looking forward to that.

Not keen on the music of the spheres and prefer to listen to our own spacecraft instead? Then read up on the Deep Space Network and how you can snoop in.

Listen To Your Fermentation To Monitor Its Progress

If you are a wine, beer, or cider maker, you’ll know the ritual of checking for fermentation. As the yeast does its work of turning sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide bubbles froth on the surface of your developing brew, and if your fermentation container has an airlock, large bubbles pass through the water within it on a regular basis. Your ears become attuned to the regular “Plop… plop… plop” sound they make, and from their interval you can tell what stage you have reached.

[Chris] automated this listening for fermentation bubbles, placing a microphone next to his airlock and detecting amplitude spikes through two techniques: one using an FFT algorithm and the other a bandpass filter. Both techniques yielded similar graphs for fermentation activity over time.

He has a few ideas for improvement, but notes that his system is vulnerable to external noises. There is also an admission that using light to detect bubbles might be a more practical solution as we have shown you more than once with other projects, but as with so many projects on these pages, it is the joy of the tech as much as the practicality that matters.

Bessel Filter Design

Once you fall deep enough into the rabbit hole of any project, specific information starts getting harder and harder to find. At some point, trusting experts becomes necessary, even if that information is hard to find, obtuse, or incomplete. [turingbirds] was having this problem with Bessel filters, namely that all of the information about them was scattered around the web and in textbooks. For anyone else who is having trouble with these particular filters, or simply wants to learn more about them, [turingbirds] has put together a guide with all of the information he has about them.

For those who don’t design audio circuits full-time, a Bessel filter is a linear, passive bandpass filter that preserves waveshapes of signals that are within the range of the filter’s pass bands, rather than distorting them in some way. [turingbirds]’s guide goes into the foundations of where the filter coefficients come from, instead of blindly using lookup tables like he had been doing.

For anyone else who uses these filters often, this design guide looks to be a helpful tool. Of course, if you’re new to the world of electronic filters there’s no reason to be afraid of them. You can even get started with everyone’s favorite: an Arduino.

Rapidly Prototyping RF Filters

RF filters are really just a handful of strategically placed inductors and capacitors. Yes, you can make a 1 GHz filter out of through-hole components, but the leads on the parts turn into inductors at those frequencies, completely ruining the expected results in a design.

The solution to this is microstrip antennas, or carefully arranged tracks and pads on a PCB. Anyone can build one of these with Eagle or KiCad, but that means waiting for an order from a board house to verify your design. [VK2SEB] has a better idea for prototyping PCB filters: use copper tape on blank FR4 sheets.

The first, and simplest, filter demonstrated is a simple bandstop filter. This is really just a piece of fiberglass with copper laminated to one side. Two RF connectors are soldered to the edges and a strip of copper tape strung between them. Somewhere around the middle of this copper tape, [VK2SEB] put another strip of copper tape in a ‘T’ configuration. This is the simplest bandstop filter you can make, and the beauty of this construction is that it can be tuned with a razor blade.

Of course, a filter can only be built with copper tape if you can design them, and for that [SEB] is turning to software. The Qucs project is a software tool for designing and simulating these microstrip filters, and after inputting the correct parameters, [SEB] got a nice diagram of what the filter should look like. A bit of taping, razor blading, and soldering and [SEB] had a working filter connected to a spectrum analyzer. Did it work? To a limited extent; the PCB material probably wasn’t right, and board houses are more accurate than a razor blade, but [SEB] did manage to create a 10 GHz filter out of fiberglass and copper tape.

You can check out the video for this experiment below.

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